The Oratory of Richard Nixon

  • Pete Woodcock
Part of the Rhetoric, Politics and Society book series (RPS)


This chapter will argue that dismissing Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal, his comprehensive defeats in the televised presidential debates against JFK and his perhaps less than glamorous demeanour would be a mistake. Indeed, Nixon was a quietly competent communicator who combined a number of classical rhetorical devices, ethos and pathos in particular, with clever management of the television and radio. Thus, his abilities as an orator must not be overlooked.

President Nixon’s greatest strength was, perhaps ironically, his use of ethos, an appeal to his good character when under attack. His ‘I am not a crook’ speech, however problematic its contents were later to prove, used the television to appeal directly to Americans over the heads of the political elite, to defend his character and elicit an emotional response from his audience. Ethos and pathos were thus combined using modern technology to reach the ordinary voter.

Nixon had form in this from his pre-presidential career. His ‘Checkers’ speech in 1952 piled on the ethos and pathos whilst he was under attack for his use of a political fund for expenses. In this speech he appealed over the head of the GOP organisation to voters on television, defining himself as a humble honest man who had risen up the system on merit. His use of the dog Checkers, a gift who had been named by his children was pure pathos. The object of this speech, to ask members of the public to appeal to the GOP to keep Nixon on the presidential ticket was achieved.

This chapter will analyse Nixon’s use of ethos and pathos, coupled with a reassuring media presence that allowed him to self-define as a political outsider different from the rest of the political elite.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pete Woodcock
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HuddersfieldHuddersfieldUK

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